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Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

With your permission, I would like to make a few remarks on H.R. 2189, a bill I introduced that would establish a commiscion or task force to evaluate the disability claims’ backlog. 

VA has recently brainstormed a number of initiatives, in an effort to get the backlog of disability benefit claims under control.  We all hope that these initiatives were well meant, well planned and well executed.  And, time will tell.

However, starting new initiative after new initiative after new initiative is just no way to do business. 

And this is why H.R. 2189 is vital.  

An outside, independent analysis is necessary to clearly identify, first, why the backlog exists, and second, how to prevent this situation from ever recurring.  Make no mistake, this commission or task force is an opportunity.

The team assembled would work towards VA’s goals and would give fresh perspective on the best path forward --- towards an intelligent, efficient claims process.  Specifically, H.R. 2189 would require an examination of backlog factors, and an analysis of laws and regulations applicable to claims and appeals.  Recommendations would be made.

In performing this review, the veteran-friendly, non-adversarial, nature of the claims process would be underscored.  Team members would be appointed by Congress, the President, and would include VA representation.  This commission or task force would pull perspectives from the veterans service organization community as well as private-sector leaders in fields such as claims processing, logistics, and product tracking.  Finally, the bill would require interim reporting on the group’s progress, as well as a final report within 180 days.

I am aware that some of the stakeholders here today express skepticism, and suggest this bill is unnecessary.  I would respond to this skepticism by reminding all involved that the status quo is unacceptable.  Many of those who have shouted the loudest that “change is necessary” are the very first to back down when an idea for real change to the system is proposed.

Yes, VA has made some progress with the backlog numbers.  But overall processing times still remain well over VA’s 2015 goal.  Even with the improvement VA has shown, 65% of claims are still backlogged.

Congress, VA, and veterans can all agree that now is not the time to take the foot off the gas.

I have heard concerns that VA needs additional time to allow its transformation plan to work, and that a commission would slow this already glacial process down.  I would like to clarify for all that are here today that this is simply not the case.

Rather, what we are asking this team to do is work with VA to objectively evaluate the situation surrounding the backlog --- and arrive at solutions that VA and others, who are so engulfed in the current day to day system themselves, may not be able to see. This is not very different from VA’s recent decision to work claims that were pending in excess of two years.  That initiative was not part of VA’s transformation plan.  Yet, it was proposed and advanced on short order because VA decided a course-correction was needed.

Couldn’t similar corrections be proposed on short order by a knowledgeable group of independent thinkers?  I believe we all know that the answer to that is “yes.”

In addition, many academics and well-respected individuals in the veterans’ benefits realm have called for an independent commission to evaluate this process.  I absolutely agree with them.  A “fail first” approach is not acceptable, when there is a chance to do more immediately. 

Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the members of the Subcommittee for your time.  I would like to encourage all of you to support H.R. 2189, a bill to establish a commission or task force to evaluate the backlog of disability claims at VA, and I yield back.